As the 18th century entered its 70s, Americans began to not only collectively awaken to the innate problems of a monarchic society but began to dream of a better form of government. In the 1770s and 1780s, they fought a treasonous revolution against their King who had failed them – a struggle that seemed hopeless at first despite ultimately winning their independence from the strongest government on Earth at the time. At first they organized under the Articles of Confederation, which was much like the current European Union: a loose collection of thirteen separate Republics, but problems arising from it led to the secretive Constitutional Convention, which was held by a body of men originally charged with fixing holes in the Articles of Confederation but ultimately created a brand new document which replaced them completely.
Our forefathers examined the histories of Greece, Rome, and other ancient states to find a replacement to mere tempered autocratic rule which they have lived under. They used not only pragmatism but idealism, in trying to create something better than they had before. They dreamt up a system that was quickly corrupted with political parties arising – there being no factions was key to much of what they set up into play – and of course the violation of its principles, perhaps best illustrated by the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, early under the Constitution.
However, with a persistent and active citizenry, we have weathered many storms over the years, improving upon certain parts of that Constitution and falling into similar vices of government periodically as well. We have seen various parties rise to political power and then fall. Thomas Jefferson once suggested that each generation should have its own constitution and that a new revolution would be necessary every 75 years. Eerily accurate of a number given that the revolutionary periods since 1790 would have fallen in 1865 — the end of the Civil War — 1930 — the start of the Great Depression — and 2005 — just before the Great Recession. This is a good estimate of great social upheaval in our nation though likely a lucky guess by Jefferson.
However, we never did actually finish that social upheaval for 2005 as pragmatism along with a President who promised change never delivered distracted the people of this republic from making meaningful change. Very much an empire, as noted by Noam Chomsky and published by Salon, America has been declining and particularly because it has become resistant to any meaningful change. With empire comes great power to certain benefactors and it is they who will not allow change — change that will take their power from them.
The Civil War saw a battle between two economic systems — one primarily feudal in the south, which relied upon outright slavery to empower its benefactors, and one primarily capitalist in the north, which relied upon exploitation of the general masses to empower its benefactors. Through the war, the economic system in the south quickly faded as the capitalists won and outright banned the practice of slavery across the nation. The war hastened an economic collapse of the feudal society that was almost certain to happen in time — and also predicted by Thomas Jefferson, a slave-owning abolitionist, even if not by choice. With this great upheaval we saw the Whigs vanish and the rise of a powerful third party: the Republican Party.
These capitalists had a certain advantage: while the feudal society didn’t so much allow the proportion of the population enslaved to grow as they became more powerful by throwing the economic losers amongst the enslaved, the failed businessmen amongst the capitalists could, indeed, find themselves amongst the masses of the proletariat, exploited by those who owned the means of production.
The rise of the capitalists to national prominence meant that the South, ruled by the Democratic Party in those days, while keeping its extreme racism, had to stop catering to the needs of the feudal slave owners and instead cater to capitalists. With both parties promoting the capitalist rule, capitalists ran amok. The Gilded Age saw great fortunes amassed at the expense of the common man, brutal corporations with unchecked power and the mercenary army of Pinkertons ensuring that their power remained unchecked. It saw the rise of labor unions won in battle with these Pinkertons on the ground and in government by fear of the untamed masses and the rise of a unique American socialist movement.
Out of the Republicans, we saw some who were reform-minded — after all the radicals of the 1860s helped found the Republican Party — and the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, who later left the party to run as the candidate for the Progressive Party against his former vice president, Taft, provided some minor reprieve for the masses.
Yet, the driving power was that of the capitalists, who, ever mindful of the short-term and personal gain, drove the economic system off a cliff in 1929 while income and wealth disparity hit their highest levels ever. Untamed capitalism led the republic to the point where the ruling capitalists would lead us to a similar sounding threat to those in charge — being taken over by either fascists on the right, or socialists on the left. The solution capitalists found to this was in Keynesianism, a form of capitalism which attempted to actual tame capitalism and harness its power. A strong federal government, economically, was needed to rein in the worst excesses of capitalism and ensure a friendlier, less taxing, exploitation of workers. A social safety net was constructed to catch those who the system chewed up and spit out, so they could recover. We had the New Deal which took many of the promises of the Socialist Party of America, watered them down, and appeased the masses.
Of course, not all elements of the business community was fine with this — rather favoring Mussolini’s conjunction of corporate and state power, or fascism. Salon, once again, has a wonderful interview with historian Sally Denton on the Bankers’ Putsch, where business had attempted to assassinate Franklin Delano Roosevelt to stop the New Deal.
However, Keynesianism won out, and a tempered American capitalism created the greatest shared prosperity America has seen — it is the economic background of the period that conservatives and reactionaries yearn for — the 1950s and 1960s when taxes on the rich were high, and the public was put before profit for the most part — though they certainly don’t acknowledge it. However, FDR did not overthrow the existing order, he tried to tame it, and so things changed.
One key change was that ballot access laws were severely tightened, independently state-by-state, as recounted in a 2006 academic paper by Oliver Hall (see around page 415, the file starts at 407). In the period prior, official ballots were introduced to prevent voter intimidation and bribery that had become rampant — and states included all parties that requested to be included or had very minor requirements such as 500 signatures for an entire state. However, the Red Scare of the 1920’s led to the start of often insurmountable ballot access, a process that wasn’t realized until after the 1930 marker.
“State laws regulating ballot access [are] far more restrictive than any legitimate state interests would require. – a Federal Elections Commissioner cited in Hall’s paper[.]”
Another key change was the massive funding that runs into our electoral system that, in part, was a huge incentive for the Democratic Party to abandon its New Deal constituencies – and the Civil Rights era constituencies which came about when Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act, losing the Southern racists to the Republican Party when Richard Nixon countered with the Southern Strategy in the following presidential election. Hall cites Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 court case that struck down campaign spending limits in his paper.
Other misadventures in electioneering have become ever more out of control since 1930, and it all culminates into a broken political system in 2005 and an outright undemocratic system by 2016 when we have just recently held major elections. The preceding text is my lengthy introduction, but the meat of this article is meant to discuss exactly how our system is broken today and hopefully how it can be repaired or replaced with something that works.
Lacking Choices the Voters Want
In 2016, Americans weren’t provided with choices they wanted. Perhaps it was best summed up by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — analogous, of course.
“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
For the longest time, this seemed to be just an analogy for the large proportion of voters who should be voting for third parties but instead vote for the lesser of two evils, suspecting that only one of the major party candidates could win. The lizards represented the two major parties. Certainly, the two major parties have done much to ensure the continuance of their power no matter what. However, in 2016 it took an extreme step to being the overall reality — and no, not because of lizard people.
In 2016, and for reasons that will be discussed later, the two major parties nominated Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: two people who, unlike previous presidential candidates, were not best measured by their favorability, but rather by their unfavorability. According to Gallup, Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating took a sharp dive in 2015 and as of July of 2016 was only 38 percent, with 57 percent viewing her unfavorably. The article mentions that Trump’s favorability is comparably low, but all the direct information about his favorability ratings are down currently according to the site, which displays an error message not only for the embedded link but several other links I tried to go to showed the same. However, The Hill has pointed out that his favorability rating never went above 38 percent on the campaign trail and in January, his unfavorability rating was 55 percent.
The results of this were pointed out by Reuters back in May 2016. Pitting the two, not yet nominated, candidates against one another, 47 percent of those who would vote for Trump were voting for him to stop Hillary from being president and 46 percent of those who were voting for her were voting for her to stop him from becoming president. While I failed to find the particular poll cited in the article, another Reuters Article from October 11, less than a month from the election, described the numbers as being “about half” at that time. Subtracting the other two numbers (49.6% total) suggests 50.4% were voting for Hillary simply to stop Donald Trump from being President.
The Los Angeles Times just reported Friday that, after the fact, 57 percent of Trump voters and 54 percent of Hillary voters stated that they voted that way primarily to stop the other. That would mean that 52.3 percent (after accounting for the other 7.8 million votes for other candidates) of all voters cast a protest vote — voting to stop the wrong lizard from being elected rather than voting for who they wanted to be President. That is a majority of the electorate – and another 5.71 percent voted for a different candidate while we don’t know the number who stayed home because of the choices. We can safely say that 58 percent of voters wanted neither Trump nor Clinton to be President, yet the majority of those voters — the majority of all voters — felt they had to vote for one or the other anyway.
I hope I don’t have to point out that if a majority of those voters could agree on a third candidate — not all of them, but a majority of them, that candidate would have gotten a majority of the votes cast. In fact, only 40.2 percent of those who didn’t want either would have needed to vote for the same third party candidate to get more votes than either Trump or Clinton stripped of their protest votes. You could make two third party candidates beating them both and still have room for a strong showing for a third.
This is not a successful democracy, representative or direct. When voters are so poorly represented, we have only the illusion of democracy. However, our political system has been rigged to make us think that we need Democrats and Republicans, as we will see.
Government Policy does not Reflect Popular Opinion
I’ve mentioned in another of my articles an academic paper from Perspectives on Politics which caused enough uproar to generate a few stories in the news. The article focuses on a study measuring 1,779 cases between 1981 and 2002 where issues which faced, or could be addressed by, the federal government were specifically mentioning policy in a favor/oppose format and could be broken down into income brackets of respondents. The analysis concluded that the average person had little or no effect on policy, while the economic elites, those who in the 90th percentile and above, had great effect on policy. While the average person often got their way, that was because they agreed with the elites, while the elites got their way when there was conflict between their desires. America is a plutocracy – ruled by the wealthy and affluent.
“When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
The United States, today, does not reflect the people of the United States, though we are constantly told that we are – we assume that since we all have the vote, we assume the government we get more or less approximates to the government we want as Douglas Adams would put it. We have two major parties who both seek to serve their biggest donors: corporations, owned by the economic elites. Michael Moore leaked an investor letter from Citigroup which can be read in full here. The elites know their power, as this letter, which is very neutral about this fact, attests to.
This goes back to something mentioned in Hall’s paper.
“The word demokratia means ‘rule of the people,’ or as we say today, majority rule. These two concepts, political equality and majority rule, remain fundamental to any modern theory of democracy, and no political system that does not aspire to both can rightly be called democratic.”
When we have two major political parties which dominate the system, to which the majority sees no alternative beyond, who both have a response to the average person that is “statistically insignificant,” but reacts strongly in tandem with the will of a small economic elite, you have both political inequality and rule by an elite minority. The modern republic comes nowhere near meeting the definition of democratic, though our political leaders are very excessive in their insistence that we are democratic and an ideal of democracy. The less democratic we become, the louder and more nationalistic the insistence of this will become as compensation for its falsehood.
Gaming the System
Another scary part about our democracy is described in Al Gore’s 2007 book The Assault on Reason.
“After a long and detailed review of all the polling information and careful testing of potential TV commercials, the anticipated response from my opponent’s campaign and the planned response to the response, my campaign advisers made a recommendation and prediction that surprised me with its specificity: ‘If you run this ad at this many ‘points’ [a measure of the size of the advertising buy[, and if Ashe responds as we anticipate, and then we purchase this many points to air our response to his response, the net result after three weeks will be an increase of 8.5 percent in your lead in the polls.
“I authorized the plan and was astonished when three weeks later my lead had increased by exactly 8.5 percent.
While I would consider Gore a neoliberal who is perpetuating the problem, perhaps it is a sign that even those who have destroyed our democracy and continue to inhibit its resurgence are victims of knowledge and techniques that should have never been discovered. You could go back to Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic, which seems to be playing itself out here. The master is forced by the system that grants him slaves to act in a certain way and is trapped in his role, though he otherwise is the beneficiary of the relationship. By freeing the slave, the master too is freed from the constraints of the relationship. Likewise, Marx built upon this to create a capitalist-worker dialectic, showing that capitalists are themselves victimized, in part, by the system that creates their relationship. Yet, even here, Al Gore was perhaps forced into his role of perverting democracy by the system that necessitated his actions, despite the moral pain it caused him.
The important facet here is that our elections are not electing leaders based upon honest political discourse and visions for the future, but rather mechanically fine tuning their message to win despite the populace. Electioneering is not an art, despite Hillary Clinton’s massive inability to utilize it properly, but a science. Our political leaders may take great steps to normalize bad behavior during their terms, but they don’t try to change minds and appeal to reason on the campaign trail, they appeal to emotion to herd us into their camp. Our elected officials do not try to govern justly, but rather they try to govern in a way that gets them reelected: which means gaming our electoral system while ensuring their large donors who see above the fray, the illusion, are getting the policies they want.
This nation has given up on meaningful political discourse. Much of this can be seen in the fact that mainstream coverage during the election has an obscene obsession with poll numbers — if a candidate takes a controversial stance we discuss it in terms of whether it will help them win or lose the election, not whether or not the stance is a good stance or a bad stance. When the Clinton campaign dragged out woman after woman claiming Donald Trump sexually assaulted them, the first question was not how this relates to his ability to be President, but rather how this will affect him in the polls.
So insidious is this gaming that it has become our political news in election cycles, not actual political discourse. Major news outlets think their credibility doesn’t come from uncovering scandals or asking intelligent questions, but from accurately predicting who will win the election. The American people are seeking knowledge that will help them make that decision, not a bookie, but it is a bookie they tune into every night.
On a related note, as the parties stopped differing on economic issues, a result of this gaming, they began defining themselves in what has sometimes been called the Culture Wars, on social issues. Republicans have a claim on passive-aggressive racism and sexism – neither of which it wants to actually claim ownership of – religious bigotry it frames as religious freedom, and the anti-government conspiracy theories; Democrats have a claim on supporting the rights of most oppressed groups despite consistently failing to actually do so. Now, neither party wants to make significant inroads on social issues – that would deplete their effectiveness. However, they want to be able to say they did something – something they can campaign on with promises of more.
That is why, when Joe Biden broke the ice on same-sex marriage unexpectedly, Barack Obama didn’t come out to say same-sex marriage must be legal – rather, as reported by U.S. News and World Report, Obama took the stance that he personally supported same-sex marriage, but it should be decided by the states. It was the political equivalent of seeing a homosexual man being beaten by homophobic bigots and telling him “Good luck. I hope you win.” Obama wasn’t joining the fight.
I will note that while Obama is rather standoffish about the rights of homosexuals, racial minorities, and others, he did take unprompted and benevolent action to support the rights of transgender people for reasons I don’t even begin to comprehend.
However, these social issues have become a rather nasty battleground electorally — people align strongly with these emotional identity issues, and so adherents of the parties treat every election as if it is a life and death matter. For example, an article on Madison 365 written by a “middle-class, straight, white American Christian man” attacked third party voters as privileged because of the gravity of the election upon oppressed groups. As a bisexual pagan trans woman, I would often refute such claims by pointing out that it doesn’t matter to me if I drown with one foot of water over my head or a hundred – privilege was accepting the mediocrity of what Hillary promised that left so many still underwater. Yet, reason isn’t going to seep into someone consumed by tribalism, insistence that their tribe (party) wins the election.
The attitude of voting blue no matter who is also highly emphasized in the about page of Occupy Democrats.
“WE ADVOCATE WORKING WITH DEMOCRATS, NOT THIRD PARTIES, TO FIGHT SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC INEQUALITY, AND WE LOVE, SUPPORT, RESPECT, AND ADMIRE PRESIDENT OBAMA.”
The capitalization and bolding is theirs — as well as a huge font size which I removed — in an otherwise normally formatted page.
Recalling back just a little ways, about Obama and same-sex marriage, his good luck stance didn’t stop him from declaring victory for America when the Supreme Court made a decision diametrically opposed to his own stance on the matter, according to ABC. Anyone familiar with discussing politics amongst laypeople is certainly aware that many Democratic tribe members credit him for the victory, despite not lending a hand in the fight. The Washington Post discussed this phenomenon through the lens of Kim Kardashian.
Republicans, of course, have regurgitated debunked lies about Planned Parenthood, as reported by CNN. There is bipartisan denial of facts and very resilient bubbles that have shut off reasonable discourse – you cannot be swayed by the logic of someone who you see as illogical. To strengthen this, we have fake news which fuels both Republican and Democratic viewpoints — each which the other calls fake news and often both consider anything outside of these two spheres to be fake news as well.
Business Insider reported in 2012 on how FOX News viewers knew less about what was going on in the world than those who watched no news whatsoever – and similar studies predated this one finding similar results. However, 2016 saw a rise in prominence of other fake news sources which fiercely supported the Democratic establishment – such as the Daily Newsbin which Snopes has debunked their claims that Bernie Sanders gave similar speeches to Wall Street as Hillary Clinton, that Wikileaks forged anti-Clinton emails, that voting machines were tampered with in Wisconsin, and that Donald Trump used a receptionist desk to stage writing his inaugural speech. Another such site, named quite misleadingly, Bipartisan Report, has been covered by Snopes on three occasions where they debunked stories that Florida found massive voter fraud and was recounting all votes and that a lie from Donald Trump caused U.S. intelligence agencies to go on high alert. The third time they were covered involved Trump’s mounds of folders supposedly containing evidence that he handed over control of his businesses, which Snopes claimed was unproven, but could not say was false because literally no one in the media knows exactly what was in the folders.
The Intercept reported early on about the collusion between the certain media figures and the Clinton campaign, however noting that this collusion, while usually done without such notice, is actually quite common in presidential campaigns. Indeed, that is something we should be worried about when it comes to ensuring democratic governance. However, the leaks spoke of more than just this gathering, we had journalists such as Glenn Thrush of Politico emailing John Podesta to get approval for their piece on Hillary.
While it more falls under issues of money, I do want to point out briefly a leaked email which had direct collusion between Super PACs and the Clinton Campaign. Practically the only rule governing Super PACs is that they cannot coordinate with campaigns — there aren’t many — and here we have direct discussion between Super PACs and the Clinton campaign on how to get around the rule they were currently breaking — for those who are going to wear “two hats.” I point this out because it is a sufficiently significant issue being outed by the leaks to show that there were very serious things that came out of those leaks. It helps illustrate the tribalism that has become so central today when we take a look at an article published by Mother Jones which minimizes the leaks by mockingly focusing on the trivial everyday things that were leaked along with the important leaks.
Americans look to the media to pick up important facts and help sort out what we need to be talking about as well as creating a narrative to view these events in. If the media is colluding with politicians — and I remind you that it is not only Hillary Clinton — then the vital job of the third estate is not being done. American voters are being lulled into a false narrative that they have a representative democracy by those we are trusting to tell us the truth.
Perhaps it is not all that surprising. After all, Business Insider had reported in 2012 that only six companies owned 90 percent of all media in the United States. Our ever resilient ruling class from the era between the Civil War and the Great Depression has worked hard since the New Deal. They have ensured that the flow of information in America was controlled by them, allowing them to narrow the range of voices that we deem acceptable.
Gerry’s Salamander has Bred
One of the most damaging developments of our republic comes from our fifth vice president, Elbridge Gerry. While noted for his opposition to parties or factions, in 1812, while still Governor of Massachusetts, he created various oddly shaped districts which helped his party win the coming election. His home district was portrayed by an artist with the characteristics of a salamander and it was dubbed the Gerrymander.
The practice of “gerrymandering” has become commonplace today with both major parties using it but Republicans noted for using it much more extremely. The idea is that you want to create very safe districts for your opponent where nearly all voters will vote for them while creating mildly safe districts for your own party to ensure that your support results in more wins.
The process works because our founding fathers, despite quickly forming parties, had intended for there to be none. Each district was to be just laid down sensibly and whomever the people felt most qualified would be elected — we had winner-take-all districts presuming everyone would have the purest of motives.
So let us take a hypothetical state with 11 seats allotted to the House of Representatives and a perfect 50/50 split in support between two parties. Ideally, one party would get five seats, and the other would get six in a tight race. However, if one party can set up the districts so that their opponent wins three of those with 90 percent support landslides and then separates the other eight districts so that they win with 65 percent of the vote, these seats are split eight to three, hardly representative of the even split of support. Through gerrymandering, this hypothetical state gave a 2 2/3 advantage to one party over the other despite equal support.
If we were to assume the party with the landslides was responsive to the people while the other wasn’t — which isn’t the reality we live in, both major parties respond to the economic elites as shown previously — causing a 10 percent shift in support, we would still have the party with a minority of the support getting their eight seats to three. The system doesn’t respond to the will of the people.
In the modern era with massive polling and advanced computing power, it is but a simple thing to construct an electoral map that ensures one party a clear advantage in the next election and also can predict demographic trends over the next 10 years to ensure that the same party is drawing the lines in the future. Through gerrymandering, the House, which should be the most democratic institution, in fact, ends up being less democratic because it is made to be unresponsive to the will of the people.
If You Can’t Convince Them, Silence Them
One of those things going on to alter voting results — and I contend that the issue is more about creating a resume for lobbyist jobs down the road than actual policy — is to disenfranchise voters from being able to cast their ballot. We see this in several places in America today as we care more and more about insisting we are democratic and less and less about actually being democratic.
One of the oldest ways we have done this is disenfranchising those convicted of felonies from voting — first they are unable to vote while in prison and then, in several states, they are not allowed to vote even once they’re released. An issue was made in 2000, though obscured by hanging chads, of tens of thousands of felons — likely Democratic voters — who had their right to vote restored in other states they were imprisoned in and Florida just not respecting that.
One of the rallying calls of the Revolution was “no taxation without representation,” not signaling a distaste for taxation itself, but the demand to be able to have say in the determination of what those taxes are and how they are utilized. However, we seem to be unable to see the parallel between taxation and criminal law. Shouldn’t someone have a say in the laws they are supposed to follow? While we clearly aren’t going to legalize murder or rape — or let’s hope we never do — there could be some discussion of whether things such as possessing cocaine or insider trading should be legal — the latter of which I would not agree with legalizing.
The problems here are exacerbated with the way our legal system works — people are more likely to be arrested, tried, and convicted if they are of a racial minority. Slate had reported on the inequity back in 2015. The problem can only be assumed to get worse with time as PBS reported on the fact that the FBI has been concerned with white supremacists infiltrating police departments nationwide as far back as 2006.
We also had some significant trouble with voting in the 2016 Democratic primary as it seemed to become routine for voters in closed primary states to suddenly find their registration changed suddenly when they went to vote. Heavy covered many of the issues voters faced with their registration changes and delays in registration changes preventing Bernie supporters — who were often not registered Democrats — from voting in the primary. Apparently, there was a coordinated effort across states to prevent the people from getting in way of the coronation of Hillary Clinton.
Beyond this, we have the massive voter disenfranchisement which happens in the name of electoral integrity. Voter fraud is extremely rare, and according to the Washington Post, an earth-shattering four cases were found in 2016. In two cases, Trump voters attempted to vote twice, in one case a woman filled out a ballot for her dead husband, and there was one case of a worker in Florida charged with opening absentee ballots creating at least one fake vote for mayor where the voter did not vote. There were another 28 possible cases of voter fraud, none of them confirmed, but surely not enough to challenge electoral integrity.
However, in response to the imaginary threat of this, Republicans have rolled out various voter ID laws to ensure that the right person is voting in the election. TheAtlantic covered a bit on how voter ID laws work to discriminate against voters on the bases of education, class, and race — which was their focus. The Washington Post had reported on how North Carolina’s voter ID law was struck down for specifically intending to disenfranchise minority voters – though courts have ruled it legal to do it for purely partisan purposes.
Why do these laws disenfranchise some voters from voting? Because it is, for some, expensive and difficult to obtain state IDs. If you’ve lost your documents because you were forcefully evicted, your home burned down, you were robbed while carrying them, or one of a myriad of other reasons, you then have to be able to get replacements – which often require documents that you just lost and money. States charge you for replacement birth certificates, often needed for getting your state ID, which you also must pay for. In states where someone with proper documents can replace their ID within two weeks, proving your social security number, another common requirement to get an ID, gets difficult as the Social Security Administration will require you to provide that ID you’re trying to get or the even harder to get US passport. I know that my home state of Michigan allows for alternate proofs such as W-2s or filed tax returns, but several minorities find themselves squeezed by unsavory employers who provide work under the table to avoid paying taxes and worker compensation, so they often do not have the ability to get these documents either.
Voter ID laws are designed specifically to disenfranchise these likely Democratic voters in amounts that will actually turn elections. It should be remembered that the effects of one person committing voter fraud has the same effect on our electoral system’s integrity as one voter who should have been able to vote being prevented from doing so. One vote is tampered with. While voter fraud may have resulted in 32 fraudulent votes nationwide in 2016, voter ID laws have prevented, once again according to the Washington Post, entire percentage points – multiple percentage points – of minority voters not voting. That means that to prevent between 4 and 32 cases of voter fraud, we are disenfranchising voters in the hundreds of thousands or millions – enough to actually change elections.
Parading the Corpse
Democracy is dead in America. It began with a very limited scope – white, landowning males – and slowly we edged our way through brutal fights to make America have at least the semblance of democratic governance. However, looking at where we are today – seeing only the electoral and not the various things that relate to freedom of protest and press – it is clear as day that it has become a corpse. We have paraded this corpse for decades, declaring it the most lively and vivacious thing in the entire world, declaring ourselves a beacon of democracy and claims by both parties that we are the greatest country on earth – but it all was a lie.
It is clear that we have three paths available to us now. First, we can submit to authoritarianism and just give up on democracy. Second, we can go back to our blissful ignorance and continue to parade a corpse around and just not get when other countries look at us in disbelief. Third, we can make actual changes and build an actual representative democracy.
Many of these changes are simple.
If we begin using proportional representation instead of winner-take-all districts that, according to DuVerger’s Law, tend to two parties – at least locally – gerrymandering becomes impossible. Seriously, how do you organize the borders of only one district in such a way that it favors one party over another?
If we ensure standardized election laws over the entire nation, we can keep from democracy being chipped away bit by bit as we have seen with Jim Crow laws and much of what we have today. Mix this in with reasonable ballot access laws that don’t require millions of dollars in paid signature collections – a reality to get on the ballot in this day and age – and we may have alternates.
If we introduce Instant Runoff Voting — a system that allows voters to rank their choices, especially in single-seat districts such as president, and if their current choice has the least number of votes it is eliminated, and their vote moves to their next choice, over and over until someone has a majority — we can ensure that our parties are always seeking to actually please us and not relying upon their stories of how their opponent is something to be feared. There are no “spoiler votes” with instant runoff.
I’m very partial to Instant Runoff Voting. In fact, I came up with the concept in college one week before finding out that someone else beat me to it before I was even born.
Much of this comes from simply acknowledging that parties are inevitable, something our forefathers did not take for granted, and so we must design our system with that fact in mind.
Other changes are much more controversial. How do we keep the media from becoming puppets of parties, from misleading the masses? Part of this can be done by requiring more than just Democrats and Republicans from being covered, but how much power can you give the government over media before it starts manipulating the media to its own ends? This needs a lot of very fervent discussion and is far from obvious.
How do we encourage the public to be more active in thinking critically about information they are given? We have seen mental traps placed both in the mainstream media and alternate media that rises up and sometimes this is through fake news sites. Can we hold individuals and institutions accountable for purposefully misleading the American public? How do we prove purpose?
Whatever our eventual answers are, we cannot get there simply by continuing to vote in Democrats and Republicans and expecting one or the other to magically make things better. They have vested interests in keeping things the same as they were. There is a chance that if Americans decide to just not vote for lizards that a third party, or a collection of third parties, resenting the repressive system that kept them down for decades will dismantle that system and push through a constitutional convention or constitutional amendments that will make a difference. Alternatively, it may be able to be won the same way many great advancements in American society have – such as the Civil Rights Act – by protesting in the streets and being loud to the point that those in power fix things they don’t want to fix out of fear for what we may do. Likely a mix of both together will have the greatest effect, but it must be consistent and cannot be forgotten.
If you want American democracy to be brought back to life, it requires action, on my part, on your part, on all our parts.
[Featured Image by David McNew/Getty Images]